How do you apply ancient Buddhist wisdom to your relationship in a way that helps you connect with your partner? How do you build the intimacy even if you’re not feeling the love? One day, as Susan Piver was experiencing what felt like an unsolvable problem in her relationship, she heard a voice say “Begin at the beginning – the four noble truths”. And much like the four noble truths of the Buddha, which identify the cause of suffering (and the cure), Susan Piver’s new book The Four Noble Truths of Love: Buddhist Wisdom for Modern Relationships can help you identify not only why relationships can be challenging – but also what to do about it. Along the way, you’ll also learn some powerful strategies for getting centered, finding your own sense of balance, and building the strength and resilience of your relationship – despite all the complexities.
Also, please check out our first episode with Susan Piver: Episode 8 – How to Tackle the Hard Questions
As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!
Along with our amazing listener supporters (you know who you are – thank you!), this week’s episode has a cool new sponsor with a special offer for you – GreenChef.us/alive.
GreenChef.us is a USDA certified organic company, with a wide variety of meal plans to make having healthier food easy and convenient for you. And they’re offering you $50 off your first box to give them a try! Just visit GreenChef.us/alive and use the coupon code “ALIVE” at checkout for $50 off, and enjoy the delicious recipes and fresh ingredients that GreenChef sends your way.
Check out Susan Piver’s website
Read Susan Piver’s new book, The Four Noble Truths of Love
(or check out her bestselling book to foster conversation with your partner, The Hard Questions)
FREE Relationship Communication Secrets Guide – perfect help for handling conflict…
Guide to Understanding Your Needs (and Your Partner’s Needs) in Relationship (ALSO FREE)
Amazing intro/outro music graciously provided courtesy of: The Railsplitters – Check them Out
Neil Sattin: Hello and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host Neil Sattin. On this show we are focused time and time again about how to have amazing relationships. And this begs the question, “What makes for an amazing relationship?” And of course, part of that, in fact a big part of that, is the intention that you set. I’m not saying that you rigidly hold to an agenda of what you think your relationship should be, but more that you create a vision with your partner for what you want. And at the same time, if that vision doesn’t include some flexibility, some resilience, the ability to work with whatever your relationship brings to you, then you might be in for a really hard time.
Neil Sattin: And some aspect of that hard time is probably part of the game. And that is all what we are going to talk about today. We are having a return visit from one of the guests who was here at the very beginning of the Relationship Alive podcast, when it was just a vision more or less that I had. Her name is Susan Piver. And you may recall her from Episode Eight, talking about how to tackle the hard questions. And that’s referring to her New York Times bestselling book, “The Hard Questions: 100 Essential Questions to Ask Before You Say I Do”. And as you might recall from that, I love questions, they’re at the heart of curiosity and which is such an important element in having a successful relationship. But there’s more. And thankfully, Susan Piver has been writing about it. In fact, she also is an accomplished and practising Buddhist meditator and mindfulness practitioner and mindfulness teacher and instructor.
Neil Sattin: And her latest book, ‘The Four Noble Truths of Love’, is all about Buddhist wisdom for your relationship. And it contains some unconventional truths that will actually probably be really enlightening for you and for many of you, perhaps even very reassuring in terms of your own experience of relationship. And once you shine your vision and your light on the truth of what is happening, then it gives you a lot of power to work with it. And that’s what Susan Piver’s latest book is all about. So if you’re interested in hearing the first episode that I mentioned, you can visit neilsattin.com/susan. She was the first Susan that we spoke to, so she got to lay claim to the name “Susan” forever for the Relationship Alive podcast. And if you want to download a transcript of this episode, you can visit neilsattin.com/susan2, the number “2,” or you can text the word “passion” to the number 3-3-4-4-4 and follow the instructions. So I think that’s it. Without further ado, Susan Piver, thank you so much for being here with us today on Relationship Alive.
Susan Piver: I am so glad to be here, Neil. Thank you so much for asking me.
Neil Sattin: You’re most welcome. Yeah, it’s great to have you here. And I particularly love your take on relationship, and I have to admit that when I first heard the title of your latest book, ‘The Four Noble Truths of Love’, I was prepared for something that was a little high-minded or philosophical, and I wasn’t prepared for it to be so gritty, the way the book actually is. And so I really appreciate that, your ability to bring some philosophical concepts in a way that’s really grounded in what our experience in love can be.
Susan Piver: Yeah, I appreciate that. I’m glad. Thank you.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. I would say what inspired you, but… And maybe you could talk a little bit about that for people who don’t know much about Buddhism and why did you write these ‘Four Noble Truths of Love’? What led you to distill it that way?
Susan Piver: Yeah, sure, I’m happy to. Well, I was in a place in my marriage… This was, I don’t know, some time ago, where I could not get along with my husband. As you know, you’re married.
Neil Sattin: Yep.
Susan Piver: The relationships go through these crazy phases where you feel close and you feel passionate and you feel connected and held, and then one day something happens and you feel distant and unhappy. And we were in a particular cycle that was very unpleasant. We weren’t screaming at each other, we weren’t furious, nobody had done anything “wrong”, we just could not get along. Everything one person said or did hurt the other person or made them angry. And it was bizarre. Even the most simplest questions like, “What do you wanna have for dinner?”, could make us have an argument. It felt insane and we didn’t know why, and it went on for weeks, and months.
Susan Piver: One day I was sitting at my desk, just crying basically, because I did not know how to fix this problem and we had tried talking to each other and not talking to each other, and going to a marriage counselor, and we tried all sorts of things. And I realized as I was sitting at my desk, “I do not know how to fix this, I don’t even know where to begin.” And a voice said to me or I had a thought, I don’t know what it was, but it said, “Begin at the beginning. At the beginning are four noble truths.” So this meant something to me as a long time Buddhist practitioner, because the four noble truths, the first teachings that the Buddha gave upon attaining enlightenment, are like the core of the entire Buddhist path to this day. So I’m like, “Oh, four noble truths. Yes, I know what they are, but how would they apply to my relationship?” The four noble truths of Buddhism are the first truth is, life is suffering. And I know that sounds terrible, I don’t think the Buddha meant life sucks. It meant something more like life is unsatisfying. Meaning, you think, “Well, if I have this job or this relationship or this amount of money or this accomplishment, I will be safe, I will be free from suffering, I will be happy.”
Susan Piver: And yeah, those things are great and they will make you happy for a time, but they will not exempt you from the suffering of being human, that’s a bummer. [chuckle] And the second noble truth is called, the cause of suffering. The cause of suffering is called grasping, which basically means pretending like the first noble truth is not true and trying nonetheless to create stable ground for yourself and trying to hold on to the things you think will make you happy, and push away the things that you think will make you unhappy. While that is a very sensible approach to life, it’s still not gonna create the kind of stability that we hope for. And the third noble truth is called the cessation of suffering, which means something like, now that you know the cause, you also know the cure. If the cause is grasping, stop grasping, which obviously is not that simple but there’s some insight there. You stop grasping.
Susan Piver: And the fourth noble truth is called the eightfold path, Buddhism is full of numbers, as I’m sure you know. And the eightfold path are the eight steps that you could take that would eliminate grasping, and therefore exempt you from suffering. And the eightfold path are things like right view, and so on. So okay, I thought, “Well, that’s cool. What does this have to do with my love life though?” And so I just started noodling around with these four truths which basically, as I say, follow a sequence, there’s a statement of the truth, the cause of the truth, the cure for the suffering, and then the steps you can take to put that cure into play. So when it came to love, what I came up with is the first noble truth of love is that relationships never stabilize, they are uncomfortable.
Neil Sattin: Dun dun dun.
Susan Piver: [chuckle] Why didn’t anyone ever tell us this? Sorry. It never stabilizes. You can be in a period, like we were talking about earlier, where everything’s great, and then that disappears and a different phase arises, they’re like weather fronts. And the discomfort of relationships is present at every point in the relationship arc. If you are going on a blind date, you don’t even know the person. It’s already very uncomfortable ’cause you think, ” Oh, what if they don’t like me?” or, “What if they do like me?” or, “What if I start recreating all my relationship problems before dessert?”, and it’s just uncomfortable. And then if you fall in love, of course, it’s fantastic. But it’s also uncomfortable in its own way, because it’s so intense, so fraught. And you think, “What did that look mean? And maybe I shouldn’t have worn those pants,” or every moment is very heightened, which is heavenly, like I say, but it’s also uncomfortable. And then in a longterm relationship, the discomfort morphs into something called irritation. There just is this perpetual, maybe not constant, but this relatively constant irritation of living with another person. No matter how much you like each other and love each other, it gives rise to this kind of, you’re rubbing against each other in an uncomfortable way, because for various reasons.
Susan Piver: I don’t know what the real reason is, but anyone who’s been in a relationship for more than a year will say, “Yeah, I don’t like the way they do this and they don’t like the way I do that,” and there’s tiny things, but they cause irritation. So that’s the first noble truth. The relationships don’t stabilize and they are uncomfortable.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, and that was for me, just reading that, I felt this big yes within me. Like of course, and in so much of the grasping on to this idea that a perfect relationship is always smiles, is never suffering, is perfect parenting, is we’re always amazing lovers together, that’s just a recipe for disappointment over and over again. And also for, I think, a lot of us to feel like, “If that’s what you subscribe to, well, wow, I must be doing really horribly.”
Susan Piver: [chuckle] Yeah.
Neil Sattin: Or it’s what drives people apart, because they think, “Well, we’re not having that ideal thing. So there must be some fatal flaw to this particular connection.”
Susan Piver: Yep, and to add to that confusion is sometimes there is a fatal flaw. And it’s not always easy to tell the difference, but for the lion’s share of what we experience in what I would call ordinary relationship problems, which can range from anything from, “You’re always late, and that really makes me mad,” to, “Oh, you didn’t tell me that you were contemplating gender reassignment surgery.” That’s a big deal, big, big deal. But none of those things are indications of harm, I would say, although they may be painful. Intentional harm. So I just wanna make clear that I exempt from this whole view, relationship problems that are rooted in abuse of any kind or addiction. Those are different kinds of problems, a different arena, and these things don’t apply. But otherwise, yeah, we think… When most of us say we’re looking for love, we don’t really mean that. It’s something that I’ve noticed in myself and others. We’re not looking for love, we’re looking for safety, we’re looking for someone who will help us make a cocoon where we can retreat when it’s a little dramatic, or overly traumatized. But we’re looking for someone who will help us escape sorrow and make us feel whole, and healed, and hopefully the person you’re in love with will do those things for you.
Susan Piver: But it’s not that simple. So there’s actually nothing less safe than love. And when we try to make it safe, it becomes something else. Not love exactly, but yeah. So I felt relief too when I realized that, by the way, like, “Oh yeah, there are things that are wrong in this relationship, but we’re not doing anything wrong in the sense that this is, this was a bad choice.
Neil Sattin: Right right. And I really like that you make that distinction, that in a relationship where you’re experiencing abuse or one or both of you is plagued by addiction, that changes the rules a bit, in terms of what one should do, I think to get help and what’s acceptable in a relationship.
Susan Piver: I agree.
Neil Sattin: And this question around safety, this was actually… I’m so glad that you brought this up right now, because this was actually one of the things that I felt myself… That was a little edgy for me. And the reason why being, not because I think that relationships are safe, in fact I think that the act of being so vulnerable automatically exposes you to being the potential to be harmed by your partner. And so much of what we have to do is learn how to embrace that vulnerability without succumbing to the fear that your partner is actually out to get you, which is what that kind of vigilance can feel like, right?
Susan Piver: Yeah.
Neil Sattin: But on the flip side, there’s so much important material and juice there in relationship for couples who are paying attention to the safety, the safety of their, the container of their relationship, actually helping each other stay out of a primal brain-triggered state as much as possible, not that you’ll never get there. This is my own personal view. So, I’m curious for you, how do you reconcile that between… Well, there is some safety to the container that we want to be conscious of and actually contributing to, and then there’s this statement of yours that lands right in that, which is that love isn’t safe.
Susan Piver: Well that’s a great question. It’s a really good question. And I would say the answer has something to do with trust. Obviously the opposite of safe is untrustworthy, unsafe. So I’m just gonna share with you a little anecdote from my own life. When my husband, my now husband and I first got involved, he was going through a very difficult divorce, and I didn’t know how it was gonna work out for us. It really could just as easily have gone in any direction because it was just a very, very tumultuous time in his life. And friends would say to me, “This is a danger side, or this is a red flag or whatever.” Yeah, but at no point to this very day, have I ever doubted how he felt about me, or what his intentions were toward me.
Susan Piver: So even though it could have just as easily have gone completely off the rails, and it was very unsafe, I did not distrust him. And to this day, I can’t explain why, but there was just this instinct. This guy is on my side, and neither of us knows how it’s gonna play out. But I don’t doubt, I don’t doubt who he is and what he feels. So that… Without that, almost nothing could have happened. Without that, it’s very, very hard to allow for even the slightest vulnerability, and I would say, nor should you allow for it, because that foundational trust, which feels different to different people and is based on different things, it can’t be described or there’s no… It’s not formulaic. But without that, for me, I would have, it would have been a very bad, very bad experience. So does that make sense?
Neil Sattin: Yeah, and I appreciate that you’re making the distinction that it had what you needed to feel, at a foundational level, you could trust this person.
Susan Piver: I knew he loved me.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. Yeah. And yet you also go on to describe, in your book, times where you’re convinced that you hate him and he hates you and that’s part of the cycle, right? That we can experience?
Susan Piver: Yes it is.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. I think that at the beginning of a relationship, part of… Whether it’s the divine purpose or the genetic purpose of all those neurochemicals that go through our bodies, is to make us trust the other person before we really should on some level, you know?
Susan Piver: Interesting.
Neil Sattin: That it puts us in a state where we’re willing to be a little bit more vulnerable. So it gets us, and I’m just thinking off the top of my head now, but maybe it gets us into proximity in a way that allows for true intimacy. Now we’re getting in maybe into the spiritual component of why this all might happen, but it’s that proximity that allows the true intimacy to blossom.
Susan Piver: Interesting. That’s very interesting.
Neil Sattin: Well, we heard it here first.
Susan Piver: Yes we did.
Neil Sattin: So there’s… So if relationships are never stable, then let’s go to the second truth that you wrote about in your book.
Susan Piver: Okay. The second truth is the cause of the problem which, oversimplified, is thinking that they should be stable and comfortable actually makes them unstable and uncomfortable. So imagine if you just sort of gave up the idea that it’s gonna be comfortable, it’s going to be… Someday we’re gonna hit the relationship lotto number and we’re gonna fix this problem, we’re gonna solve this issue, or we’re gonna create this thing that we don’t have that we need, and once we get all these things in a row, we’re gonna go into some relationship evenness that will not change. And aiming toward that, driving toward that vision of what this relationship should be, I, in my own relationship, actually is a cause of a lot of discomfort.
Susan Piver: I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try to solve our problems. We have lots of problems and we’re trying to solve them all the time and constantly adjusting, and tweaking, and reviewing, and working, and losing the thread and regaining the thread with the issues that are in our relationship. So I’m not saying that you just should stop doing that, but if you think, “Well, we’re gonna tweak this thing and then it’s gonna be perfect, and I’m gonna get everything I need and so will the other person. And unless that happens, it’s not good.” A lot of pain between two people. So the second noble truth is, “Thinking it should be stable adds to the instability.”
Neil Sattin: Yeah, I’ve read that and I was like, “Wow, that is so brilliant.” That it’s that expectation that really adds all this, like an extra layer of anxiety and fuel to the fire of whatever… Whatever is happening in that moment. So if what’s… If something comes up that makes you really uncomfortable and rather than being able to be present for it, you have all this, “It shouldn’t be this way. Oh no, something is wrong.” If those are the kinds of things that are coming up, then it actually removes you, it removes you from being able to respond and then, at the same time, it adds all this intensity to whatever is come up.
Susan Piver: Agreed. Agreed. And the brilliance is in the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, in this sense, because the first noble truth, as you remember, is, “Life the suffering.” Second noble truth is, “The cause of suffering is grasping.” So it’s very interesting. It doesn’t say, “The suffering is the suffering.”
Neil Sattin: Right.
Susan Piver: It says, “Grasping is the suffering.” So in other words, suffering is part of the deal. We’re all gonna have losses, we’re all gonna have problems, we’re all gonna gain things, and lose things and that is unavoidable. But in the Buddhist view, that is not considered the real suffering. Although of course it is, but the real suffering is what we add on top of it, which, in this case, is called grasping. So mapped over to relationships, yes, there are going to be problems. You’re going to like each other, you’re not going to like each other, there’s going to be desires, there’s gonna be disconnection. That’s gonna happen, that’s what we saw… That’s part of the relationship mandala. But thinking it shouldn’t be that way, actually causes more pain than the pain points themselves.
Neil Sattin: I’m just laughing on some level, because while we’re having this conversation, I’m noticing that we’ve had a little bit of Internet difficulty, and I don’t think it’s bad enough that… I think everyone listening is getting everything you’re saying, and I’m glad, because it’s really important. And I’m noticing that I think the local airport changed the flight patterns, so there are airplanes flying overhead now. The next door neighbor’s dog is barking, and within me is the potential for all this grasping, like, “Oh, it shouldn’t, it shouldn’t be this way. I should be in a soundproofed hermetic chamber with a big fibre optic tube connecting you and me directly so that there are no hitches.”
Neil Sattin: So while we’re talking, I myself am embracing this practice of like, “Okay, this is what is, this is what’s happening right now.” Here in…
Susan Piver: Wow.
Neil Sattin: In the podcast.
Susan Piver: That’s interesting, that’s very interesting. That’s a perfect illustration. It’s a perfect illustration. And sometimes in Buddhism that’s called the suffering of suffering, the suffering of succotash.
Susan Piver: There’s suffering and then there’s the suffering of suffering. So in relationships, there’s the discomfort and then, which is natural, and then there’s the discomfort of the discomfort, which is optional.
Neil Sattin: Right, right, yeah, and when you’re talking about that too, I think you talk a lot in your book about projections and this has come up on the show before, this notion of what’s within you that you wish were happening or that you think is happening, versus what actually is happening and how much those projections are getting in the way of the is-ness of what is actually happening right there in front of you.
Susan Piver: Yeah, it’s very hard to see. It’s very hard to see. We’re all looking through a particular lens.
Neil Sattin: So like the Buddhist noble truths lay out this very logical argument about why life is so hard and how to deal with it. I know, I totally oversimplified that.
Susan Piver: No, that was good, I think that was accurate.
Neil Sattin: But here we are, we are on this path through the relationship Noble Truths, and we’ve got, relationships are never gonna be stable. Trying to make them stable is why you’re having such a hard time. And then this is where it really gets beautiful is, I think, I mean it’s been beautiful all along, Susan, but with the third Truth, which is what we bring… So take it away, Susan.
Susan Piver: Yeah, and I appreciate that and I agree, this is where… ‘Cause I think the first two sound like, “Okay, it’s a problem, deal with it.” The third one is… Actually can be quite beautiful. So the third noble truth of love is that meeting the instability together is love or loving. So, in other words, rather than trying to get it to stabilize, and this is what you need to do to make it stable, and this is what I need to do to make it stable, and I don’t wanna do that and you should do this instead and all of that. Conversations that must be had but, nonetheless, if instead of looking at each other as the source of the problem and the solution, I would say a great partner is one who will instead turn to stand shoulder to shoulder with you, to look out at the arc of the ride that you are on together now.
Susan Piver: Usually, like I say, we look at each other. You did this, I did that. But this… And good, you should do that. But this part says, “Well, you could also notice what’s happening right now in your relationship, together, meaning… And open to it.” Meaning now, oh, we love each other, this is great. Now, we don’t really like each other, I don’t know why. Now you really like me and I’m not that interested in you. And now we can get along and now we can’t get along. Someone who will be like… I picture it as someone that’s on a roller coaster ride with you. And you’re not trying to flat straighten out the ride, you’re just dipping and diving together and staying seated together. To me, that is a great partner. Just someone who will be on the ride with you. I don’t mean that in a cavalier way, I mean literally join you in this incredible ride and be on it together. Whatever’s happening, whether you’re going uphill or downhill.
Neil Sattin: Right, being willing to say, “Here we are.”
Susan Piver: Yeah, exactly.
Neil Sattin: And there’s a lot of power in that, in that willingness to just be. And you talk about this too. I’m curious, maybe we can bring that in now, is the power of honesty, being honest about what is. But, and this veers us into the fourth noble truth, which is about the path and how honesty is used. And maybe we could talk about how that’s part of the path and how that weaves into where we’re going from here.
Susan Piver: Sure, yeah, thank you. So the fourth noble truth says, “Here’s how you could possibly do these things, potentially do these things.” And I looked at the three basic cycles of teachings within Buddhism and what they suggest, in terms of creating a spiritual path, and mapped them over to what they would mean to me, ’cause all of this is what it means to me and then I’m sharing it so it’s useful to others. How would I map those into my relationship? So, they’re basically four qualities. The first two belong to the first cycle. Then the third and fourth belong to the second and third cycles, sorry to be confusing. And the first quality that is… These first two qualities create the foundation for a relationship. And just like anything, a house, or spiritual path, or a piece of art, if you don’t have a foundation, you’re not getting anywhere. You have to have the foundation for your relationship, for your house, for your whatever it is you’re doing. And the qualities that create a foundation, meaning if you don’t have them, you’re not gonna be able to build anything, are first, honesty.
Susan Piver: So that doesn’t mean saying what you think the moment you think it. That’s silly. It means first knowing the truth yourself about who you are and what you feel. And that doesn’t mean you have to know yourself perfectly and always be completely clear about how you feel. But it means knowing when you are clear and knowing when you are not. Knowing when you know the truth and knowing when you don’t and then adapting your behavior to that truth. So if you can’t be honest, or you’re with someone who can’t be honest, not because they’re a liar necessarily, although some people are, but because they don’t know how to tell the truth, it’s gonna be very hard to have a relationship. You could have a great time. You could have an awesome love affair, but it would be hard to make a relationship, I think. And the second quality that is foundational, it sounds funny, I think, is called good manners. And I don’t mean knowing which fork to use particularly, but…
Neil Sattin: But that is so important.
Susan Piver: Knowing which fork to use?
Neil Sattin: Yes.
Susan Piver: Well, if it’s important to you, then it is important, Neil. And in addition, it’s important to… Good manners are very profound. They’re predicated on awareness that there’s actually another person present.
Neil Sattin: Yeah.
Susan Piver: And taking an interest in what they think and what they feel and what they need. Not that you have to supply it, but… Oh, this is what they’re experiencing now. How could I help? How could I know when I can’t help and back away? How can I notice where they are in their inner life and just recognize it? So, if you’re with someone who is not aware that you’re there, and therefore cannot have good manners, well then obviously there’s very little you can do in terms of a relationship. So honesty and good manners, I would say, are foundational. And then the third quality here is just simply called openness, or openheartedness, and this refers also to the part, the cycle in the Buddhist teachings. First you create your foundation by being disciplined and keeping things simple and so on, and then your heart naturally opens to others.
Susan Piver: And this is the part in the Buddhist cycle where you think, “Oh, I’m not the only person here on earth, there are others. And I could actually begin to look at them as having equal importance to myself, if not greater, from time to time.” It’s radical, quite radical. And in a relationship, what it means is that you actually look at the other person as having at least equal importance to yourself in the relationship. I have to say, I found that quite shocking. I thought my relationship was about me, and sometimes I was like, “Oh well, now I guess it’s about him.” Neither of those… Sometimes both of those are true, but really it’s about us thinking about us, not to the exclusion of you or me, but can I look at this person as having equal status in this relationship? It sounds like a silly question, but it’s surprising how infrequently we act as if that was true.
Susan Piver: And then the fourth step here is called letting go or going beyond, and what it means in this context is looking at everything that happens between the two of you, good, bad, and ugly, not as a way to create more love or an opportunity to create more love, ’cause sometimes there is more love and sometimes there isn’t, but as an opportunity to deepen intimacy. And this, when I realized it, was very, very heartening to me, because I knew, even before we got married, I cannot commit to loving this person. Sometimes, I will feel love, and sometimes I won’t. But what I can commit to is to deepen intimacy and to look at everything that happens between us. Not, again, as a way to have more love, but to have more intimacy, to know each other better. And I have found that there’s nothing that you cannot feed into the intimacy machine, because love, like I say, comes and goes, but intimacy has no end. You never get to a point where you’re like, “Oh yeah, we know each other perfectly. There’s no… Nothing more to reveal or know.” There’s always more. And so, that is an honest commitment. “I vow to deepen intimacy” is a more true vow, I think, than, “I vow to love.” So I found that really inspiring. [laughter]
Neil Sattin: Yeah. Yeah, it’s so, it’s so expensive. And I think in terms of, especially if you’re feeling like your relationship has gotten stale or boring, a more conventional approach to that might be to try to add some novelty, right? So like make things spicier.
Susan Piver: Right.
Neil Sattin: What I hear you saying is that, that my… Yeah, all the gears are turning right now. That that stagnation could be from not really turning towards your partner and from not actually meeting the person, the full human who is right there in front of you with their own set of needs, desires, etcetera, and that through leaning in with each other and creating more intimacy even in those moments, even in those moments where the love may not fully be there, or you might have the caring, but not the fire, or it could be any number of permutations of how you feel towards the person, but that the willingness to turn in and be present with what is happening creates intimacy that ultimately creates more, creates more. And more vibrancy, maybe is the word that I’m looking for.
Susan Piver: Yeah, I would say the vibrancy is always possible, but it creates problems for me, or I would think, to look at boredom as a problem that needs to be solved. We all prefer a relationship that’s exciting and dynamic to one that is dull, obviously. And maybe it is dull for some reason that you should investigate. Absolutely, and do that investigation, but it’s also possible to just be bored together. What is it like when we’re bored together? Let’s, let’s… Can we do that? Can we be side by side in this bored, boring place? I know that doesn’t sound like fun, but there’s something very, at the same time, intimate about being where you are together. In fact, there is no other definition of intimacy, I don’t think, than just being where you actually are together. And again, I know that this doesn’t sound like fun.
Susan Piver: And this is not three ways to keep it awesome, this is not that book.
Susan Piver: If you have ever been on a retreat, for example, where there’s silence, you find that at first it’s intimidating or, “Oh, it’s gonna be lonely or sad or whatever,” but after a while you find that it is so intimate to just not talk, but to be with other people. It’s bizarre. All of these projections, drop away and you just are together. So, excuse me, the idea that you could be with someone to whom you have nothing to say right now, but just be there, it’s very intimate. It’s strange. I remember after being on my first silent retreat thinking to myself somewhere in the middle of it, “What were all those words I used to say? [chuckle] Why did I need to say that?” Anything, because just being together without a particular agenda is really, really deep and rich.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, an experience that I’ve had that’s along those lines, I have done a silent retreat, but we also, my wife and I are a part of this practice that we do called Infinity Practice. And every year we have a retreat, and one of the things that we do is we do a form of muscle testing before we speak. So that nothing that you say is something that you haven’t tested strong. Like that it’s generative to actually say this thing.
Susan Piver: Wow.
Neil Sattin: So that’s been another little twist on that is just feeling how much we use words idly versus when are we actually… When are we saying something that actually contributes to the life around us?
Susan Piver: That’s so interesting. What is it called? Infinity what?
Neil Sattin: Well, we’ve been studying with a teacher in actually out in the Northampton area. Infinity Healing Practice. It’s something that she created. And I’ve talked about it a little bit here on the show. I think we’re five years into our training with this person.
Susan Piver: That sounds great.
Neil Sattin: It’s sort of a blend of Shamanist practices and neural science and acupressure, and it’s got a lot of different components to it.
Susan Piver: Cool.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. But we actually use muscle testing all the time in our relationship, when we’re trying to make choices about things, or what we’re gonna do, or what we’re gonna eat, or who’s gonna massage the other person, things like that.
Susan Piver: That’s an awesome idea. I’m gonna try that. I think that sounds great. My husband will really roll his eyes and laugh at me. I don’t care. It will be… I think he would actually end up enjoying it.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, it’s handy and fun. It also has a little, not that this is intentional or by design, but it makes it all feel kinda like a game, and you realize also that some of it is kind of arbitrary. Some of the things that we take so seriously, “Well, I massaged you last night, now I’m gonna message you again?” That you can go like, “Well yeah, that’s what I’m gonna do. For some reason that’s generative. So I guess it’s my turn to give again.”
Susan Piver: That’s awesome.
Neil Sattin: And that reminds me too of one thing that you speak about that’s so important. First I’m thinking about overall, how relationship is a practice. And then you also mention the act of loving and giving love, and how that’s an element that you find is missing from a lot of the popular culture about how to get love or how to preserve the love in a relationship.
Susan Piver: Yeah, it’s interesting. If you look at the self help books about relationships. I’ve noticed this when I wrote my very first book, “The hard questions”, that you mentioned earlier, ’cause I was like looking for books, like, “How do you do this whole being married thing?”, and I noticed that all, I’ll say 100%, although I’m sure there’s some exceptions, but 100% of the books that I found were about how to get love. How to get someone to love you, how to get love to return to you, how to get more love, and none of them were about how to give love, unless it was in the service of getting love. So that always surprised me. Like why, why? Because for a variety of reasons, but one of them is loving as we talked about earlier, it’s so vulnerable, and everybody feels powerless because you kind of are. However, there is one way to take the seat of power in relationships. I don’t mean of domination, obviously, of just feeling empowered, and that is as a lover. That’s a very empowered place. I’m going to love, I’m going to be a lover. I’m going to give love.” It doesn’t mean to the exclusion of getting love, or I’m putting myself second, it just means my focus is going to be on “What can I give?”.
Susan Piver: And then also, “What can I get?”, ’cause you don’t wanna be stupid. But if you just even bring in the question, “What can I give?”, it changes things because the predominant question for most of us, myself included, is “What can I get? What will I get if I do this?” But when you shift it to just at least also ask, “What can I give?”, I find I have a rush of confidence and empowerment that I don’t feel when I’m asking, “What can I get”?
Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, and I think that you refer to this toward the end of the book in a question maybe from someone from your Facebook group. I think you took a bunch of questions and answered them and talked about that, like how one might discern when their giving is a little lopsided, and they’re actually in an unhealthy situation, versus learning more about your own power to give, to be loving, to show up that way in life. And this might be a great time to talk about the power of mindfulness and meditation, ’cause there are some great practical things. This is something that, again, I love about your book, it’s very readable for one thing, and you lay out the arguments, the relationships never stabilize, expecting them to be stable is the problem, meeting the instability together is what love is, and there’s a path through to liberation. So we’ve covered all those things, but then at the core is a need to, I think, get clear and to be receptive and to be as open to this thing that we’ve mentioned several times over the course of this conversation, to what actually is, to being present, even if you’re being present to the boredom, as you mentioned earlier. That seems like it would be impossible without learning mindfulness.
Susan Piver: It would be for me.
Neil Sattin: Yeah.
Susan Piver: It would, but there are people for whom it’s not impossible. But I’d say it’s rare. But yeah, if you don’t know how to work with your mind, then it’s very, very confusing. Of course, I’m not saying you have to know how to do it perfectly, at least I hope not because I certainly don’t.
Neil Sattin: Now we’re gonna have to write “The Four Noble Truths of Meditation”.
Susan Piver: Right, right, right. Meditation is actually about placement of attention. So if I say to you, I don’t know, “Don’t look at your foot, left foot, but place your attention on your left foot,” something sort of goes to your left foot. And if I say, “Now, place your attention on your right earlobe,” which you can’t look at, “But just move that attention to your right earlobe and just notice it,” that’s all mindfulness is. Something moves between those two points between your ear and that something is your awareness, your attention. And all that happens in meditation is you are practicing working with that, placement of attention. In case of what I teach, and the most common object of attention is your breath. You’re not practicing placing attention on breath so you can be great at placing attention on breath, because there’s not much utility in that skill, but you’re practicing with the breath so that when you talk to a human being you can place your attention on them, because you have learned how to place your attention on what is happening. Because the breath is always in the present, you can’t breathe in the past or the future. So, if your attention is on the breath, you could make the argument that your attention is in the present.
Susan Piver: And then when someone’s talking to you or you’re trying to make a decision about what job to take or who you are, you can actually place your attention on the thing that you want to contemplate. It sounds so simple, and it is, but it is not easy, and for most of us, our attention remains on what we hope and what we fear. So we don’t actually… It’s hard to hear the person who’s talking to us outside of that lens of, “Will this be good for me or will this be bad for me?” And those are important questions, and you should not release those questions, but first, can you actually hear what’s being said to you? And so as… If you train in mindfulness in some way, whatever way makes sense to you, the likelihood that you will be able to answer “yes” is greatly increased, I would say. Although my husband doesn’t practice meditation, and never has, but he’s good at paying attention. So he’s one of those people.
Neil Sattin: Maybe he is, and maybe he’s gotten a little through osmosis.
Susan Piver: No, no, no, no. [laughter] He’s much better at this kind of thing than me. He’s much better, he is. He’s much better, much more relational than I am, and I’ve learned a lot from him. He’s good at relationships. I have to write books about them ’cause I’m not good at them.
Neil Sattin: I’ll get him on the show next time, I guess.
Susan Piver: That would be awesome.
Neil Sattin: Well, Susan, again, I so appreciate your visiting us here on the podcast, and I think your book, ‘The Four Noble Truths of Love’, is a perfect… I don’t know why the word antidote comes, I don’t want it to be an antidote, but it goes really well, it’s a good, it’s a good… No, it’s not a seasoning ’cause it stands on its own. All these metaphors are failing me right now, but when you hold it next to a book, like let’s say, ‘Getting the Love You Want’, which is like a classic, and it came to mind immediately when you said so many books are about getting love, because this book is actually really helpful, and there’s a lot in it about how to give, in particular, how to give your attention in how you communicate with your partner. And so, props to Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt. At the same time on the flip side of it, I think there’s so much richness in what you’re adding to the conversation about really expanding your view of what this whole relationship thing is all about, and how to find yourself in it so that you don’t lose yourself there.
Susan Piver: I really appreciate that, and yeah, learning how to get, receive love, and learning how to give love, seems that one without the other would be not so great. So it’s good that there are ways to explore both.
Neil Sattin: Well, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that at the end of your book there are some great… You talk about establishing a meditation practice, and we talked about that a little bit a moment ago with placing attention on the breath. And I like how you talk about just getting in the habit of it is so important. Five minutes a day is better than nothing, and better than 30 minutes once a month, so that you’re developing that muscle, that habit. And then you also offer some other things. So when you pick up Susan’s book, which I hope you will, there’s a great addition to loving kindness meditation, that we’ve talked about a little bit on the show but you had some extra bonus ways to do that that I really love. And also a way to practice conversation, that’s again really helpful and centering, and can bring some of this practice to how you relate with your partner. So, I love those practical additions at the end of your book.
Susan Piver: Thank you.
Neil Sattin: And I would love for you to let our listeners know how they can find out more about you and your work and what you’re doing right now. And I know you have a lot of offerings for everyone.
Susan Piver: I appreciate that. Yeah, my website’s susanpiver.com, just my name, P-I-V-E-R, is a way to keep track of where I’m teaching, and it’s also, if you’re interested in learning meditation, a place for you to sign up for the open heart project, which is my online community. It’s free and I send out a guided 10-minute meditation instructional video every week on Mondays. And if you wanna learn to meditate or re-establish your practice, I heartily invite you to check it out. But my website susanpiver.com is the best place to find these things.
Neil Sattin: Great, and we will have links to all of that in the transcript for the show. And as a reminder, if you want to download the detailed transcripts just visit neilsattin.com/susan2, that’s the number “2”. Or you can text the word “passion” to the number 3-3-4-4-4 and follow the instructions. Although I’m tempted to have them text the word “boredom”.
Susan Piver: That’s what it is. That’s so funny.
Neil Sattin: But don’t do that, don’t text. Well I don’t know, maybe I’ll see if that word’s available, if it is, I’ll make something cool, and if it’s not I take no responsibility for whatever happens if you text the word “boredom” to that number.
Susan Piver: That is so funny.
Neil Sattin: And in the meantime, Susan, I hope to have you on again. I just so appreciate the depth and richness that you bring to the conversation about relationship, and taking one’s seat in the middle of it.
Susan Piver: Well, I appreciate that. It’s a pleasure to talk with you, and congratulations on your podcast. It’s really bringing great conversations to light, and I’m just happy that you’re making these kinds of insights and view points available to others. Thank you for doing this.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, it’s my pleasure. I’m glad. I’m glad that I can be on this end, bringing everything to people, so it feels good. Thank you for saying that, I appreciate it.